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After that, lunch hour pretty much sucks. I find Laronda in the cafeteria, and she's sitting all the way in the back, so that I have to carry my tray with its slice of pizza and glass of juice past several tables filled with the popular mean crowd.

It's only day two, and Yellow Dorm Eight has already established a social pecking order, and they are center stage, here in the cafeteria. All the in-crowd has occupied the best tables. This grouping of alphas now includes in one category the hashtaggers, and a number of other athletic-looking jocks and cheerleader types, or simply big and tough teens, many of whom seem to be well-off, sporting expensive smart jewelry and gadgets. In another category there are the scary street-tough guys and girls that look like they are gang-affiliated.

The rest of us, kids who are ordinary beta types, geeks and nerds, the weirdoes, or the invisible loners, are relegated to the secondary, more-or-less "loser tables" at the periphery, the farthest ends of the room, and pressed against the walls and cafeteria backroom doors.

As I pass the loudest table in the middle, I hear laughter and hoots, and then someone says, "Gwen Lark, baby, why you ask such difficult questions?" I pause and a new wave of laugher hits me.

I turn.

The big dark-haired guy with the creepy neck tattoo, who pinched and elbowed me the other day, is staring directly at me. His grin is hard and terrible. Again, he shapes his lips into an air kiss and I feel a wave of cold fear sweep through me. . . .

"Where you going, baby?" he says loudly, leaning his muscled body in my direction. "Looking for some more Atlantis homework? I got some for you right here!" He makes a gesture at his crotch.

"Owww, Derek! You show her, man!" More hoots, crude gestures, and guffaws break out. There's Olivia, hanging on to Wade's arm, and making more disgusting gestures, then covering his ear with her hands to whisper something. Both of them bust out laughing.

My head feels like it will explode from a mixture of sudden rage and fear. But fear wins out and makes me stiffen and turn away and pretend to ignore them—especially this tattooed Derek guy who scares the crap out of me in a serious way, with his bulk and his hardcore attitude, and the aura of street-tough meanness.

I quickly rush past their table, barely keeping the tray in my hands, and make it to Laronda's table.

"Ooooo, girl, they really have it in for you!" Laronda looks at me worriedly. "See, that's what you get for not keeping your mouth shut and talking so much in class. All these jerks notice you!"

"I know. . . ."  I slam my tray down, because I am still shaking in anger. "I can't help it. I always talk in class. Way too much."

"Then cut it out!" Laronda nibbles at the crust remains of her pizza slice.

I sit down and stare at her. "It's just how I am. I dunno, I always have this need to answer everything—I know, it's crazy, I guess. It's automatic—"

"See, even now you're talking too much. Just, zip it. Shush!"

"Okay . . ."

"Nuh-uh!" Laronda lifts her hand palm up in my face, then mimes closing a zipper with her fingers across her lips.

I take the hint and chew some pizza instead.

Meanwhile Laronda tells me stuff—first about her horrible Combat class over at the huge Arena Commons building, then about her Auntie Janice back in Buffalo with whom she lives, and about how her six-year-old baby brother Jamil loves pizza, any pizza no matter how awful, and too bad she couldn't give him some of this crappy cardboard kind from the cafeteria, because he'd eat it for sure. . . .

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